More than 80% of nonprofits rely on volunteers to work in their organizations, using these non-paid workers to supplement other human and fiscal resources. André, a local diver has been volunteering with Reef Renewal Curaçao (RRC) since 2016, going twice a week to dive and work in their shallow reef nurseries on restoration of staghorn coral, ‘Acropora cervicornis’ and elkhorn coral, ‘Acropora palmata’.
In late 2021 I returned to Curaçao to dive with André, my 4th year working with RRC. We dove from the shore and as we swam out I observed more fish than in my previous dives to that location – a positive change due in part to pandemic closures and an absence of tourists during covid. Heading to the underwater nursery we swam past thickets of coral outplantings, including one I worked on with volunteers from A-1 Scuba in 2018. The plantings three years later, looked very differently than I expected. They had not grown into large versions of the original fragments as I thought they would. Instead, about 50% of the staghorn coral out plantings survived.
The survival rate of individual corals post-transplantation is higher than the average survival of individuals without restoration, so what I saw in Curaçao was promising. I learned when we observe natural staghorn thickets, the bottom sections are usually dead but the colony is still actively growing from the top. The dead skeleton supports the live growth and provides a barrier between the sediment and the live portion of the coral. These thickets of dead and live corals are vital habitat for 25% of marine species.
In the Caribbean it has taken thousands of years of laying down corals on top of corals to create the vital reef habitats and sadly now, the hard corals that make up the Caribbean reef ecosystem are 97% dead. Restoration is one of the keys to saving this fragile and vital resource. Volunteers like André protect surviving reefs, restore others, and inspire donors to support this vital resource.